Dalton Hwy to Deadhorse

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Jeff Munn, Aug 25, 2004.

  1. Jeff Munn

    Jeff Munn Just along for the ride..

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    I just read Trailace's Alaska report, so I won't bore you with my ride from Virginia to Alaska. But I thought a more in-depth description of the Dalton Highway might help a few more who might be headed that way someday. Of course, road conditions change greatly depending on the weather, so read and adapt where necessary.

    Left Fairbanks the morning of 28 July, after finding a nice B&B for my wife to relax at during my solo run north. She lovingly rode with me to there, but thought I could handle the Haul Road myself. Smart woman.

    First, make sure you gas just outside of Fairbanks, because the map says it is 264 miles to Coldfoot from there. You might want to take an extra fuel can if you are riding a BMW with the notorious 6% error in the odometer. There are a couple of stations within 10 miles of Fairbanks, and then the only other one may be at the Yukon Bridge, but it may or may not be open. Fair warning.

    From Fairbanks to Livengood, the road is mainly sweepers and nice pavement riding up and over the White Mtn range. I found them to be lots of fun because I was so pumped to be heading north.

    The unpaved section of the Dalton starts just beyond Livengood, about 75 miles north of Fairbanks. If it is raining, or has been recently, this will be your first dose of reality. For some reason, the first 5-10 miles has no gravel, and is mainly some type of hard packed dirt. In the rain, it quickly turns to a dark brown clay that is slipperier than whale snot. I had to stop, drop my tire pressures, and suspension preload. The locals even call one section of it, "the Beaver Slide", because it is straight downhill for 1/2 a mile (over 6% grade), across a wooden bridge, then straight back up the other side. Because they happened to be grading it in the rain, I went down it at 10 mph, in first gear, standing on the pegs. Still, half the time the front and rear were not in sych. Don't get discouraged. If you get thru these first 10 miles, the rest is a piece of cake. :wink:

    It is 56 miles to the bridge crossing the Yukon. Nothing exciting about it, but the wooden surface. It is also the last place you might pick up fuel before Coldfoot. If you need it, the gas station/restaurant is about 1/2 mile past the bridge on the left. Have been told that there may be a 1.5 gal fuel can there that is left out for bikes to use going north. Just be sure to leave it back there on your return trip. I took my own 2 gal can anyway.
    <br />
    <img src="http://www.munnwerks.com/Prudhoe/Yukonbridge.JPG" border="0" alt="Yukon Bridge" /> <br />

    From the bridge, it is an easy 60 miles of foothills and wide dirt roads that are not nearly as challenging as getting to the Yukon. Then, surprisingly, you'll hit chipseal pavement and the countryside opens to wide valleys and rolling hills of the Yukon Flats Wildlife Refuge. Often, you can see for miles and run as fast as you feel lucky.
    <br />
    <img src="http://www.munnwerks.com/Prudhoe/Daltonhwyinterior.JPG" border="0" alt="Yukon Flats Wildlife Refuge" /> <br />

    You'll hit the pavement about 15 miles before you get to the Arctic Circle, where everyone stops for the required photos. I decided to wait to do it on the return trip. Deadhorse was still a long way off.
    <br />
    <img src="http://www.munnwerks.com/Prudhoe/Arcticcircleroadsign.JPG" border="0" alt="Deadhorse 300 miles" /> <br />

    Most turn around here. It is the easy thing to do. You can declare victory, award everyone medals, and go home. Oops, wrong scenario. (Sorry, too many years in the Army.) But in reality, getting to the Arctic Circle is half the challenge it once was, since they have paved almost half of the road to there. It still is fun though.

    From the Arctic Circle to Coldfoot is a fast 60 miles of really nice pavement. It was over before I knew it. The map had said it was 264 miles total, but my BMW odometer said it was about 15 more. Go figure. When you arrive in Coldfoot, the Visitor Center entrance is on the left side of the road, and the gas station is 1/4 mile down the dirt road to your right. It is the last gas until Prudhoe Bay. There is also a nice place to eat, and a motel there if you want to rest before taking the last haul north.

    The paved road ends at Coldfoot, but the really great dirt sections are just ahead. From there north, you'll run about 60-70 miles along a wide valley in the Brooks Range. In my mind, I called it the HAUL-ASS Road. 3 Lanes wide, flat, 60-70 mph sweepers, and you could see the trucks coming from miles away. In good weather, it is a great place to wick it up.
    <br />
    <img src="http://www.munnwerks.com/Prudhoe/Haulassroad.JPG" border="0" alt="Road thru Brooks Range" /> <br />

    At the end of the valley, you'll begin climbing into the clouds. At least I did. That was the last time I saw the sun for 24 hours. It had taken me 6 1/2 hours to do the 335 miles to the top of the Atigun Pass, elevation 4,752 feet. It would take me 5 hours to do the final 185 miles to Prudhoe Bay.
    <br />
    <img src="http://www.munnwerks.com/Prudhoe/Northantigunpass.JPG" border="0" alt="North side of Atigun Pass" /> <br />

    From there on out, it was if the gods were conspiring against me. A front was blowing in off the Beaufort Sea and slamming up against the Brooks Range. Not only that, but visibility dropped, it started raining, and the DOT was out grading the roads again. There is just nothing that makes a cold, wet ride any better than to try to do it in a perfectly even and freshly graded 1" deep slurry of wet dirt, gravel and calcium chloride. You've got to love it. Oh, and throw in an occassional Semi drenching you with mud and gravel as they blow past heading south. :thumb Guess it beats sucking down dust...

    <br />
    <img src="http://www.munnwerks.com/Prudhoe/Haulroad.JPG" border="0" alt="Haul Road in the rain" /> <br />

    I have to admit that I started sniveling and wasn't having much fun. Even the electric vest and heated grips weren't keeping up with the dropping temps. And you know it is not going to get much better when that first cold trickle of water seeps down into your crotch...... :nod Was it really worth it? You bet your ass it was. And here is a secret that no-one else will tell you. 89 miles out from Deadhorse you'll hit pavement again. No sh*t. And that pavement will run 35 miles before turning to the gnarly gravel again. Why? I have no stinking idea. But it was enough to cheer me up and keep me going. Thank goodness for small miracles, because there is not much else to keep you going in bad weather.
    <br />
    <img src="http://www.munnwerks.com/Prudhoe/Arctictundra2.JPG" border="0" alt="Arctic Tundra" /> <br />

    11 and 1/2 hours after leaving Fairbanks I arrived at Deadhorse. It had cleared a bit, but was a chilly 39F. First stop was to find some gas, since I had run out about 7 miles from the end. There is a 24 hours hut there, but no station that you would recognize. If the card reader doesn't work, go knock on the door of the building beside the pumps. The price was pretty reasonable too, considering it is the only gas 300 miles north of the Arctic Circle.
    <br />
    <img src="http://www.munnwerks.com/Prudhoe/PBaygas.JPG" border="0" alt="Prudhoe Bay Gas Station" /> <br />

    Then went to the Prudhoe Bay Post Office and took the picture of the only thing with "Deadhorse Alaska" on it. Since I am a member of the Deadhorse MC of New Jersey, I had to have the proof to show them, right?

    [ For those of you who are wondering why Deadhorse and Prudhoe Bay are synonymous, you can read about the origins of the Deadhorse name here..... www.munnwerks.com/Prudhoe/Deadhorsename.htm ]
    <br />
    <img src="http://www.munnwerks.com/Prudhoe/Deadhorsesign.JPG" border="0" alt="A Deadhorse at Deadhorse" /> <br />

    Ended up spending the night in the Prudhoe Bay Hotel. It is a very industrial complex that looks like a bunch of double-wide trailers cobbled together and stacked on top of each other. The room was $90 for the night, in a shared dorm-like environment. Plywood was the motif, no TV, no phone, and the communal toilet/showers were down the hall. But you also got all the food you could eat in the company cafeteria! It was New York Strip night and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. At breakfast they even had sack lunches and sandwiches to take with you too. Worked for me.
    <br />
    <img src="http://www.munnwerks.com/Prudhoe/PBaylodging.JPG" border="0" alt="Prudhoe Bay Lodging" /> <br />

    Prudhoe Bay is not a pretty sight. And they don't go out of their way to make it so. It is a working oil support facility, so there is not a great deal of beautiful things to see, other than the occassional caribou and musk ox. However, if you want to see real beauty, then stop and walk on the tundra. It has a spongy feel that is euphorically strange, and the tiny flowers and plant life are invisible from the road. Take the time to stop and experience the tundra while you are there.
    <br />
    <img src="http://www.munnwerks.com/Prudhoe/Prudhoebay.JPG" border="0" alt="Prudhoe Bay" /> <br />

    When I departed the next morning (after eating at least $30 worth of breakfast and loading the tankbag with sandwiches), it was 36F and really foggy. The good news was that the calcium chloride had wicked most of the moisture out of the road overnight. It was cold and overcast, but I could still make good time because I didn't have to worry about the slime.
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    <img src="http://www.munnwerks.com/Prudhoe/Arcticundranothing.JPG" border="0" alt="Arctic Tundra view" /> <br />

    Isn't it weird how the return trip from anywhere is always easier than the going away trip? Somehow the road that had kicked my butt the day before, was not so tough the next morning. Go figure. By then I guess the 350 miles of crap I had already ridden thru had made me cocky.... but it was a lot easier coming back. I was really happy when the sun burst thru as I was cresting the Antigun Pass and was dropping back down into the interior of the Brooks Range again. Oh the little things that make us smile.....

    In less than two hours I was thru Coldfoot, gassed, and then stopped at the Arctic Circle for the required photo op. You know the Advrider mantra, "If you don't have a photo, it didn't happen".
    <br />
    <img src="http://www.munnwerks.com/Prudhoe/Arcticcircle.JPG" border="0" alt="Arctic Circle" /> <br />

    Coming out, I had convinced myself that the first 10 miles really weren't that bad, and that I had just imagined the whale snot consistency because I was just scared of the Haul Road's reputation. When I got back to the first section again, just after a rainshower, I realized I hadn't been imagining it. Less than 1/2 mile from the end of the unpaved portion, as I was sliding around a 90 degree turn at 15 mph, I saw a 4wd pick-up truck, sans rear cap, rolled in the ditch. Stuff was everywhere. Took me 100ft to stop and turn around. They had slid off the road and rolled it not an hour before I had arrived, during the rainshower. Since they were alright and had already called for help, I continued on. Yes, the first 10 miles will get you.

    My advice for those going to Prudhoe Bay? Carry extra gas unless you can guarantee you'll get 260 miles on one tank. Don't get discouraged in the first 10 miles, it will get better. Always yield to the Semi trucks. They are professionals and run the road everyday, but do need to keep their speed up. Take your best cold weather and raingear because it can go from 70F to freezing in a hearbeat. Finally, give yourself plenty of time. Theoretically you could do Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay and back in less than 24 hours, but why? Stop, enjoy, smell the tundra. You'll never seen anything else like it again.

    Then you can sit back, savor the experience, and have rally campfire stories to tell forever....... :D
    <br />
    <img src="http://www.munnwerks.com/Prudhoe/Rainbowtub.JPG" border="0" alt="Fruits of Victory" /> <br />
    #1
  2. KTMRyder

    KTMRyder throttle jockey

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    Thanks for the pictures, I wondered what I missed.
    my KLR let me down at the Yukon River crossing last year and that was as far as I got. :cry

    Now I have to go back and do it again someday. :nod
    #2
  3. Steverino

    Steverino Arrogant Horse's Ass #1

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    Great job Jeff, I really enjoyed the write up......really sorry I did not get the chance to go as I had planned.

    THanks for the write up.

    Steve
    #3
  4. bavarian

    bavarian bavarian

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    REEEEAL NICE. Two Alaska reports in one day - what a treat for me today. Very fine style, very vivid writing. Thanks, enjoyed reading it very much. You made me ride with you.
    #4
  5. arroyoshark

    arroyoshark Needing some space

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    Really, really nice ride report! :thumb :thumb :thumb

    I know what you mean by the whale snot. In 2002, when I rode through there with my 10 yr. old daughter on back, they were reconstructing a lot of that road, so was torn up. We came through that section when it was very wet.....and sheeeit was it handfull. We did our share of slipping and sliding, but managed to keep the bike on the road. And, then when you get to the chipseal you wonder, what the hell.

    You posted some very good information for folks.
    #5
  6. nomiles

    nomiles Sledge-o-matic

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    Great read, Jeff! ~ Thanks for posting it. :thumb :thumb
    #6
  7. MikeS

    MikeS Fur shur! Vamos!

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    Great rite up, great ride. Me and a buddy were at Deadhorse on Aug. 4th, starting a UCC. We were on street bikes, and we timed it so there was no rain. No problems with the bikes or the road, except one broken headlight lense guard on my RT, and a broken sealed beam headlight on my buddy's "Old Wing".

    The one thing I'll ad, since we left Fairbanks at 3 PM; as an alternative to staying at Coldfoot, we stayed at a hunting camp in Wiseman, which is 11 miles north of Coldfoot, and about 2 miles west from the Dalton Hwy. Boreal Lodge, great place to stay, not so "crowded and industrial" as Coldfoot or Deadhorse. I don't have the Boreal Lodge number right here, but it's either a Coldfoot or Wiseman radio phone number. Bunk was $75 for two beds, or a cabin for $125. Kitchen facilities included, bring your own food. I'll recommend staying here, if your timing is to stay mid way. We then rode from Wiseman to Deadhorse, and back to Wiseman in one day, about 500 miles.
    #7
  8. RonS

    RonS Out there... Supporter

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    Great report. This is what I was looking for prior to going up there last year. Never did find anything that covers it as well as you have so I took a lot of pictures myself thinking I would show others what it looks like. I still haven't posted them. Sorry.

    We actually lucked out. It was 80 degrees all the way up and back. We were roasting our butts off in Deadhorse. The road was rough though. We had to let air out because we were worried about breaking something on the bikes. I kind of liked the industrial nature of Prudoe. When we first pulled in and saw all the equipment I said to my riding partner, So this is what a billion dollars looks like. I found out later that there is a lot more than a billion dollars invested up there. We also stayed at the same hotel that you did. Best meal I'd had since Dawson City.

    One of the things that you didn't see with all the cloud cover was the mountians to the east. There were snow capped peaks all the way in to Deadhorse. They were a long way off though. Also the Brooks coming back south are stunning. Atigun pass was probably my favorite spot. There is a place to pull off next to a stream on the right as you start up the pass approaching from the north. We had lunch, looked out over the tundra and felt lucky to be there.

    Brooks range coming from the north:
    #8
  9. Trailace

    Trailace Dumb Ass

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    Jeff great report on the Dalton we were lucky and only had to deal with water the DOT put down. I think you were a few weeks ahead of me because the people at Coldfoot talked about ya. I tough the Mountains on the Dalton were awesome.

    [​IMG]
    #9
  10. Steve Glenn

    Steve Glenn Been here awhile

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    Way to go Jeff! :thumb
    #10
  11. ARRRGGGHHNUT

    ARRRGGGHHNUT ARRGH! Rider

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    niiice....:clap
    AK is nice, but dude, don't forget to flip bird sometimes...:freaky
    #11
  12. doc riverz

    doc riverz anatra di seduta

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    :thumb :super :clap
    #12
  13. L.A.

    L.A. Long timer

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    Great tip report! I appreciate the detail of the road conditions, and am tempted to print out your report and stash it inside my Milepost guide. Thanks again! :thumb
    #13
  14. Mr. Cob

    Mr. Cob Howling "Mad", Adventurer

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    Howdy Jeff,

    Going to Prudhoe on the Haul Road, has to be one of those must do things just for the bragging rights, as you said once your up there there's not much to see. It sounds like they have done a lot of paving since I was up there in July of 2001, pretty soon they'll have the whole thing paved and it will be just another road. You did a great job on the report and the photos, thanks for sharing.
    #14
  15. GSteve

    GSteve Long timer Supporter

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    Myself and Charles Hehl made the same trip the last part of June this year. Great ride. For those that consider making the Haul Road ride, be aware that the road conditions change daily due to road maintenance. Also the conditions can change hourly due to weather. In other words expect anything and you won't be surprised, nor disappointed. Nice report and pics by the way.
    #15
  16. Rapid Twin

    Rapid Twin Just another purdy face

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    Did it summer before last on the 21'st of August.........amazing about the simularities in weather, and road conditions..........nice report.....Twin
    #16
  17. L Rider

    L Rider "Road Worthy"

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    Excellent report.........nice detail...........thanks!!
    :thumb
    #17
  18. GreyGhost

    GreyGhost Been here awhile

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    Great report!! For those that are planning on going it is a real help because many of the other reports are not detailed for M/C riders. Leaving in July 05.
    #18
  19. Jabba

    Jabba "HOLD THE LIGHT!!!"

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    Nice job Jeff!!! Man- you've got life by the balls. Way to go~ :thumb
    #19
  20. Jeff Munn

    Jeff Munn Just along for the ride..

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    Thanks Jabba. Hope to see you Saturday night at the RA in Canaan. I'll be sure to have some pics of the trip with me so you all can't call me a liar when I tell the stories. Wait until you hear the one about the only other rider who made it to Prudhoe Bay the same day as I did. He works for one of the major professional motorcycle magazines and was test-riding a 650 VSTROM. As Tina Turner said in Beyond Thunderdome, "The rules are simple. Two men enter..... one man leaves". Only one of us rode back.
    #20